Coming into the Peace Corps we are forced to transform ourselves into open minded, open hearted and open armed people. Serving as a double edge sword, I came into Peace Corps already having this open armed mentality that has been with me throughout most of life. Whether it stems from being an only child, coming from a small family, or my personality of loving to love, I consider myself a very trusting person and very loyal to my friends and family. My ability to open up to people so quickly and feel so trusting has opened up doors to great opportunities and relationships, as well it can bring tremendous heart break.
Struggling to get over some past relationships with people who really matter to me has been one of my biggest battles here while in Peace Corps. Only just recently have I gotten to a level of acceptance, but never did I thought about how if I had controlled my ability to trust so easily it may had been able to help me avoid the loss of some important relationships in the past, as well as what I just experienced as a Volunteer of Peace Corps.
Vulnerability is what it takes to make it in this job, in order to integrate into a community one needs to open up a part of them and trust that things will work out. Coming into a situation barely being able to communicate efficiently, and without the normal support network of friends and family, I found myself whole heartedly falling for the idea of integrating specifically with my host family in the community. As one of the few families that I can communicate well with in Spanish, our relationships have grown so fast, and I have so much love for all the members of my host family that at times I could see myself wanting to stay with them for much longer than just two years. I have gotten to know my host mom and her daughters on such an intimate level, that as far as what I feel, I would do whatever is in my power to help them out. I think this strong intense feeling I developed comes from the initial sense of desperateness all volunteers initially have to find some sort of support system in their community.
Blinded my the idea that I have genuine love for this family, and that more often than not their actions show that this love is reciprocated, I ended up in a situation that opened my eyes to the reality that it is importance to not loose my strong self reliance. This trait is really important to anyone interested in long-term study abroad, Peace Corps, or traveling in non-Western, non-English speaking countries.
As some of you might know I have been spending the past month or so paying to finish off building a house. Well just like any project in Paraguay things do not always go to plan, more money is needed and time is running short before my boss comes to clear it off. My most recent hurdle has been finding an Electrician to put in my electricity. Originally I was told it would cost me 50 mil I was just within my budget of 6 miliones to complete the house, then it was confirmed that it is actually 500+ mil but that a neighborhood guy would charge 300 mil for me. This realization was very stressful as I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for this, as well as my house necessities, bed, fridge oven ext. After three weeks stressing out on what I could do, my host family presented me with a great solution, that a friend of theirs said he would put in the electricity for free, since it is an easy one-day task for him. And since he is a good friend with my host Dad, he wouldn’t charge me, as he understood that money was a huge issue and knew the contribution I would make in the community as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It the span of two days, (in my perspective) this arrangement escalated very quickly, and was being asked/ told many times by the man that he wanted to be my boyfriend throughout my stay and was in love with me. This type of attention from men here in Paraguay is normal, even the fact that he has 40+ years, so I played it off just like I do with every other pursuer saying that I don’t want anything, changing the subject, and mentioning how I thought we were just friends.
The second night after knowing he would help me out he wanted to come to the house to share drinks with the family and talk about the house, my host mom said that it was fine as she was there and my host sister and her husband were there who would accompany me, as they knew that I was hesitant of this guy as I now knew he may want to pursue me and with my family by my side it would be impossible for him to try anything. As the man arrived, I went to my host sister asking for her to join me, and as she sat watching the television she said in just a few minutes she will come meet me out there. Well as you might know where this is going, she never ended up coming out, I went back to her and her husband two more times individually asking for them to sit with me and all times was given the simple lie, “en seguida me voy” (In a second I will go). So I spent an hour or two of my night watching my sister across the patio drinking the beverages that the man brought, and falling deep into an uncomfortable feeling of guilt and betrayal.
As I talked more this man, I was finding out more and more about what his plans were for me. He was not only going to put in the electricity, but he had already bought cement to plaster my bathroom wall, and wanted to put in tile flooring, and everything else to make my house the most comfortable house possible. He had plans to take me into town, to show me around, to teach me Guarani, offered so much of his time, money, and heart into having a relationship with me. If it was a situation I would have wanted, I could have seen myself being flattered by this generous offer. However, that was and is not how I felt about the situation or the man. Not only is he a 40+ year old man, he is also recently divorced as his last wife used him to build her house, and buy her everything she ever asked for. It was then that I realized that this is why I was set up with him. Thinking that I could pull it off, my family was under the impression that I would woo him for the time needed while he paid for the finishing parts of my house, and then once it was completed I could easily just say goodbye. Clearly they don’t know me as well as they thought they did—as it nearly put me in en emotional break down on the reality of how at the end of the day I am alone in here. As the family did not have their actions concerning my safety, as using a man for his money could put someone like me in a dangerous situation very quickly, as he could easily expect to be paid back in “other ways”.
During the night, my body was fueling with betrayal and sadness, all this time I thought this family had my best interest in their hearts but as I watched them from across the room, not moving an inch to come help me, I realized that three months in site doesn’t make someone family like the family and friends I have in the States. Without even thinking twice, I would be at my friend or family side if asked for help in a situation where they were in a potential uncomfortable situation with someone they didn’t know well. Some of you might think well how did you even let yourself end up there, but it happened too fast to even realize what his intentions were, until it was happening, and all I could think of was how familiar this feeling is, the feeling when my idea of the strength and loyalty of my relationship with someone changes drastically in just minutes.
I was filled to the brim with feeling betrayed by someone I was so open and loving to, guilt from realizing what my family intended with the man, and sadness realizing the reoccurring result of opening up so easily and loosing my inner self strength. I told the man goodnight, and gave as much inclination that I was not interested, without being straight rude and rejecting him in front of others, which is a huge importance in Paraguayan culture, as in most cultures. After he left I couldn’t contain how hurt I was, I always believe in being honest here, so I told my sister thanks for your help, making it obvious that I was not happy. She told me that no one wanted to go with her, this made me feel worse, because as I sat with that man waiting on her broken promise to come, she sat watching, drinking his drinks, not even showing a sense of remorse as she knew how uncomfortable was. The tears were unavoidable, I told them I can’t talk about it because its going to make me cry, and while laughing told I was told by her husband that I was lying and that I actually liked the man, which just made it worse.
I haven’t sobbed like this in years, I laid in my bed for over an hour trying to talk myself out of it, but nothing was working. I ended up blowing through all my saldo to call the states, so that I can talk to my Mom, the one person for me that always can provide a perspective and nurturing support to get me through life’s good, bad and ugly moments. Talking to my Mom helped me tremendously, as well as my other host sister. This sister was gone in University while all of this was going down and when she found out I had been crying, came straight to my side, and was very sympathetic to the situation and had wished she could have been there to help. After talking to her, I was able to stop crying, get my senses together, and go straight to bed. Fortunately I had the companionship of our kitten that curled up next to my chest as I fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up with a pounding headache from crying the nigh before, a sense of fear knowing that I would have to face my host Mom to talk about the night before, and revving up the strength to cut off the arrangement my family had made with the man. Talking to my host Mom I had a better sense of the situation, and the cultural differences that we have in terms of using other people for help. Here it is culturally acceptable for woman to use men for the things they have, just like many woman do in the United States, but for me personally this is not okay. She understood where I was coming from, and supported me in my decision to cut off all ties with their family friend as it bought so much stress. At this point in time, I am now paying someone to put in the electricity, and I am fine doing so as I would rather put in more money than be put back into the situation I experienced.
Along with the lingering feeling of disappointment and preparing myself to strengthen my inner self even more for this journey of Peace Corps, that same morning I was given the difficult news that my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in my sister G had passed away the night before. Getting the call, shot my whole body into a numb feeling, unable to comprehend how such a thing could happen. I may not have had the lucky opportunity to be a close friend of Porter but I am blessed that I had the chance to know such a wonderful human being, and it breaks my heart to see us lose such a strong giving person, at such a young age. This has hit the volunteer community, all of Peace Corps, and all his loved one, very hard. Not an hour goes by without me thinking of him and the overwhelming sadness for his loss. I have a few fond memories with Porter, one being that we shared a few dances during my visit to Encarnacion to see Carnaval. He is the type of man that lights up the room with his contagious smile. Whenever I heard stories of him it always inspired me to be a better volunteer and a better person. This incident has hit the volunteer family hard, many of us are re-evaluating the purpose of our service and are still processing how such a thing has happened. This following Wednesday, we will all be meeting up in Asuncion to have a memorial in his honor. Until I have talked more with my Peace Corps peers and staff, I will refrain from sharing the details of this tragedy, thank you all for your respect during this time.
In lighter news, as of yesterday my house is officially completed and it is gorgeous. I am so thrilled to know that I am this much closer to living on my own. It will have to be approved by my bosses, which may take some time due to the loss of our fellow Volunteer. To accompany me in my house, my host family has gifted me/ asked me to take my beloved/ their detested dog Pedro. You all may have seen him in some of my pics, and he truly is an adorable pain in the butt. But hey respecting the request of my parents to have a dog for safety, he will get the job done. My family is so happy to give him to me, as in their opinion and mine too he doesn’t quite cut it as a ferocious guard dog, his passions solely consist of eating and playing. Plus since he belonged to my family first, I will have a good home to leave him at while I am traveling.
After I get back from the memorial I will try to update you all on my classes in the colegio, in this aspect of my life, things are going great. I miss you all so much, each one of us are lucky to have our lives and to be living in the United States which gives us great opportunities in life and a chance to live, so let us all be grateful as it helps us out in more than we’ll ever really know.
Please take the time to read this Press Release that honors Porter Knight and if you feel comfortable doing so say a prayer or send good vibes to Porter and his family and friends.